Crowdsourcing Covid Recovery Ideas. Do I Panic and Scream or Do I Rejoice?

Is it just me… or are there an overwhelming number of ‘bright idea schemes’ floating around at the moment? All of them searching for the big idea that will make life better after COVID.

A lot of what I’m seeing are versions of ‘crowdsourcing’. Ask lots of people a question, and they will eventually come up with ‘the’ answer… More on that later.

The reason I’m asking is because this week I’ve encountered another two ‘bright idea schemes’. These were from highly respectable, well intentioned Third Sector Organisations. Both of them offered attractive ‘prize funds’ to help me implement my bright idea (once the Judging Panel of ‘Worthies’ had decided if it was ‘worthy’).

When I put this activity alongside what’s going on in areas like the Public Sector, Universities and others, it adds up to a lot of activity. A lot of; uncoordinated, unstructured, unmeasured, quite messy and possibly quite expensive activity.

Do I Panic and Scream? When I started to think about all these ‘bright ideas’ activities the logical, ordered, auditor part of my brain started to scream…

“Oh no… it’s completely unstructured and uncoordinated. How do you know if people are doing the wrong (or right) things? What if some of the things that get funded are doomed to failure? How do they measure impact? What about consistency in the evaluation process for what wins the prize (gets funded)? What if the selection panels are biased towards things the judges like? How do they spread the learning afterwards? Arrggghhhh… Does not compute… Does not compute… activate the Panic Button!”

At the point where my brain is ‘screaming’ I usually hitch up the Husky and go for a walk. It never fails.

Do I Rejoice? After the initial panic and some Husky therapy I’ve come to the conclusion that, “I should rejoice”. The reason for this lies in my thinking around how to respond to complex situations.

Whatever happens after COVID is unknown and cannot be predicted with any certainty. There’s no ‘text book’ answer. We’ve never done this before. The ‘answers’ are not known. What works in one community may not be appropriate for another 10miles away. In the language of the Cynefin Framework the situation is Complex.

What you do in a Complex situation is 3 things: Probe, Sense, Respond. Basically this means:

  • Probe. You do something to gather information about the situation. In the case of the ‘bright ideas schemes’, this is essentially what I think they are collectively doing. Lots of attempts to come up with a solution. A by-product of what they are doing is gathering information.
  • Sense. You use the information you’ve gathered to make sense of what is happening. Sense making. This probably won’t be a single answer, lots of options that look ‘sensible’, and there’s some data/information to suggest they might work.
  • Respond. You take the next step. This might be a process of ‘amplification’ to scale or spread what you’ve understood. It’s all about moving from an unpredictable situation full of unknowns (complexity), towards something that is a bit more predictable and known (complicated).

Even More Rejoicing… the more I think about what’s going on with the ‘bright ideas schemes’ the more joyful I’ve become. Apart from the gathering of information there’s also the joy of diversity.

Think of this like spreading a bet on a horse race. You don’t bet on just one horse winning a race, you bet on a few of them. The chances of you getting the winner, and 2nd and 3rd goes up the more you bet.

By going for lots of bets (all the bright ideas schemes), you increase your chances of identifying ‘winners’. Perfect! Also, you’ve got some interesting diversity built in. Each one of the ‘schemes’ will have its own perspective on Life, COVID, the Universe and Everything. This will lead to some ‘right oddities’ being funded. The sort of thing that a formal, logical, bureaucratic ‘Central Approvals Panel’ (like my screaming logical brain favoured) wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.

Surely, that’s the place to look for those innovative, creative, transformational ideas that everyone says they want?

Crowdsource with Caution. Only one thing I want to mention here is Deepwater Horizon, the 2010 marine oil spill disaster.

Following the spill, the oil rig operators put out a request for ‘bright ideas’ on how to deal with it. Sound familiar? A fairly typical approach to crowdsourcing. The results (depending on what you read) was around 43,000 ideas submitted with 30 being implemented.

A implementation ratio of roughly 1:1433. Not a great return on investment, for anyone. Maybe it would have been different if there had been lots of little schemes instead of something centrally administered? You can read more on this and my thoughts on crowdsourcing here; You’ve got to move a lot of muck to find the golden nugget’.

Even More Opportunities. Getting back the bright ideas schemes from a Complex situation perspective, I think there’s a next step…

What I’m suggesting is to look at the individual idea schemes from a Meta Data perspective – take an overview. There’s a couple of things you could do here:

  • Look for things that worked and amplify them (obvious).
    • Look for things that didn’t work, and see if they might work in another situation.
    • Look for the things that weren’t funded first time around – maybe someone else can see opportunity in the application?
    • Just squeeze the data to try and make a bit more sense of it. With such a lot going on, there must be things visible at meta level that individual schemes just don’t see.

Nice Idea, Shame About the Implementation. I’m not aware of anyone taking a meta view of all of the ‘bright ideas’ schemes. If there is, I’d love to have a look at what they are up to. In the meanwhile I’m off to pitch my idea to Dave Snowden at the Cynefin Centre and Ian Burbidge at the Royal Society of Arts. Maybe they will direct me to a bright ideas scheme…

So, What’s the PONT?

  1. Having lots of ideas is like spreading your bets at a horse race. More ideas increase the chances of winning.
  2. Different and diverse ideas are necessary in a complex situation, where things are unpredictable and answers unknown. It’s part of probing to find the things you ‘didn’t know’.
  3. Taking a ‘meta view’ of all the small bright ideas schemes could identify opportunities that don’t work for the individual schemes, but could work elsewhere.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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